Older Adults And Digital Healthcare: Bridging the Divide
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Healthcare consumers have come to expect the convenience of digital tools for accessing health information, finding care, checking costs, scheduling appointments, filling out pre-visit paperwork, and joining telehealth appointments. And these consumers are not just in the Millennial and Gen Z demographics — older adults are also adopting these tools, especially during the pandemic.
With lockdowns and social distancing guidelines in place, many seniors used smart phones and tablets to stay connected to their families and began to access telehealth services from home for their care. In fact, from 2019 to 2020, telehealth virtual visits increased among Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) beneficiaries from approximately 840,000 in 2019 to nearly 52.7 million in 2020, a 63-fold increase.
Seniors Are Rapidly Adopting Digital Healthcare, But It Remains A Barrier For Some Older Adults
It’s easy to see why these trends continue. After all, an employee approaching retirement may very well have been using a computer, smartphone, and email for work for decades, along with maintaining various social media accounts. However, a retiree in their late 80s with multiple chronic conditions may have never even accessed a computer.
Furthermore, many older adults simply do not have access to technology at home. A JAMA Internal Medicine research study surveyed a group of Medicare beneficiaries and found that 41.4% did not have a computer with a high-speed internet connection, and 40.9% lacked a smartphone with a wireless data plan. These disparities need to be addressed to bridge the “digital divide,” or those with access to technology and the internet and those who do not.
To increase digital healthcare use among older adults, employers, health plans, and providers need to understand these technological barriers, as well as the unique health needs of seniors and social drivers of health (SDoH), including access to transportation, care, and healthy food. Stakeholders in the industry should also embrace a broader view towards digital healthcare that goes beyond apps and websites to help older individuals navigate the care landscape with confidence — and find the right care for their needs.
3 Ways To Bridge The Digital Divide
Digital is not simply a website, an app, or a place to find a covered doctor or pay a bill. Digital leverages data and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide the right information to the right care provider or member at the right time. Closing care gaps, simplifying medication adherence, triggering outreach, supporting caregivers, guiding new retirees through Medicare, and ensuring a patient’s full medical history is taken into account can all be achieved through digital healthcare.
Here are three trends that are helping older adults to engage more fully in this evolving technology.
1. Enhanced Healthcare Navigation: Harnessing the power of digital health technology goes beyond consumer-friendly apps and websites. Employers should look to health partners who offer a connected care ecosystem, such as concierge services powered by advanced algorithms and AI to guide seniors to the best care for their needs. These healthcare navigation platforms offer omnichannel access to virtual and at-home care, remote patient monitoring, and enhanced communication with care managers — for a more personalized and simplified experience.
2. More Equitable Access To Technology And Digital Literacy: Computer ownership, internet connectivity, and access to digital healthcare information are closely related to larger social drivers of health (SDoH) — the social and economic conditions in which people live and work. Older adults, particularly those in disadvantaged communities and/or racial and ethnic minority groups, are up to five times less likely to have access to digital health information than younger, higher income, white Americans.
To address these disparities, local governments, nonprofits, and telecommunications companies are stepping up to provide older individuals with computers, smartphones, and tablets, as well as the broadband internet access needed to handle stable video connections.
At the same time, helping older adults to embrace technology involves more than just providing connected devices. It also includes educational programs to increase digital health literacy, as well as a tailored approach to communication preferences. For example, some older adults may prefer the use of smartphones over computers. The focus of care providers and health benefits companies should be on guiding individuals throughout their personal care experiences, regardless of which channels they use, and steering them to healthier outcomes.
3. Integrated Behavioral Health Support: The pandemic has amplified the stress, anxiety, and isolation that many of us experience, particularly for older adults who are homebound. An integrated, whole-person care model that includes behavioral health support can help seniors to stay connected and address the full spectrum of their physical, mental, and emotional health needs. And when older people engage with technology, there is also a potential secondary benefit: the process of learning new skills in itself can help boost mood and cognition.
Today’s digital healthcare tools can help seniors find the right care, stay connected with caregivers, and maintain their independence. You can help your retirees capitalize on these innovations by partnering with health companies who’ve demonstrated a commitment to intuitive, guided experiences and an empathetic understanding of the diverse needs of older adults.